Cutting Through the Red Tape

Social Cities

May 17, 2010

by Miki Litmanovitz, SF2010

A major responsibility of cities is to engage with their residents and keepthem involved, and cities have been turning to socialmedia to help them achieve that goal. The City of San Francisco has alwaysbeen at the forefront of technology and social media. Mayor Gavin Newsom waseven recently named America’s Most Social Mayor for his use of social media.

How can other cities and nonprofits use social media to their advantage?Is Twitter the answer? Or is it FacebookBloggingYouTubeCloud computing? What’s the next trend in bleeding-edgetechnology, and how can NGOs be prepared to use it?

I recently attended a training on how to use social media in the public andnonprofit sectors, and here are some best practices I learned:

  • Remember that the purpose of social media isn’t to talk about you; it’s to get information about your organization. Keep your personal accounts and your organization’s accounts separate.
  • Make sure you pick names that are intuitive, like the name of your organization. (Good example: Unicef)
  • Keep your posts short, no more than a few very short paragraphs. (Good example: World Wildlife Fund)
  • Your Twitter and Facebook accounts should contain unique information, not just link to other social networking sites. (Good example: Red Cross TwitterRed Cross Facebook)
  • Make it easy for people to donate! Include relevant information on your website/blog/etc. regarding how funding is used. (Good example: PETA)
  • Take the extra time to make sure that all the links on your website work. Having inoperable links on your website looks unprofessional and makes it harder to find relevant information about your organization.

Training the People Who Transform Our Neighborhoods

May 07, 2010

by Bethany Rubin Henderson, Founder & Executive Director, City Hall Fellows

Recently I was asked to guest author a blog for the Pepsi Refresh Project.  Here’s my post, republished in full from the Refresh Blog. This was originally posted on March 16, 2010.

Every week, each of the Refresh Ambassadors brings in a new voice to take stock of the ideas populating their category and to gather up a “playlist” of their favorites. Bethany Rubin Henderson, Founder and Executive Director of City Hall Fellows, weighs in. 

Most of the time when people talk about improving their communities, they focus on programs. Fix this road here. Build this community center there. Clean up that park. Start a new youth program. But the critical factor that is often left out of the discussion is human capital. Who is going to do the work of improving our communities? Not just today, but tomorrow and next month and next year and next decade? Three Pepsi Refresh projects are preparing the leaders our communities desperately need.

Next American Vanguard is convening the country’s best and brightest urban advocates age 35 and under to share ideas and connect to experts in their fields.

The New Orleans Citizen Participation Project is developing a systematic, community-driven approach to engaging local residents in the government decisions that affect their lives.

And right outside our nation’s capital, the Neighbor Corps is training diverse, low-income, tenants to become community leaders.

Margaret Mead is right that “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” Imagine what lots of small groups of thoughtful people, trained by organizations like the ones above, could do!


Bethany Rubin Henderson is the Founder and Executive Director of City Hall Fellows, a non-partisan nonprofit working to solve the talent gap in America’s cities by empowering diverse recent college grads to solve the problems in their own hometowns.

The Convergence of Local Economic Impact Research and Politics

May 06, 2010

By Shyamali Choudhury, SF2010

As a research analyst in the Controller’s Office, I work in a division called the Office of Economic Analysis (OEA). We look at economic impacts of proposed legislation and frequently field requests for data analysis from various departments. Still, this fall when a request from the City Attorney’s Office came through, it was unusual enough to stir up considerable excitement in our tiny office of three.

The San Francisco City Attorney San Francisco City Attorney successfully moved to intervene on the plaintiff’s side of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a challenge to the voter-passed Proposition 8banning gay marriage in the state of California, which was being heard by District Court Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker. Judge Walker allowed the City of San Francisco to intervene because of his interest in hearing how Proposition 8 would affect city budgeting in terms of higher government costs in health care and social services. To demonstrate this, the City Attorney called upon my supervisor, Ted Egan, as a witness to support a 2008 report from our office on the economic impact of same-sex marriage in San Francisco.

Our office’s involvement energized my interest in the case and provided a reason to visit the courtroom during my supervisor’s testimony.  As we worked to update the report, the potential impact of our research was apparent. The convergence of our office’s research and this important political event was a significant moment for my year in city hall. Though it was an uncommon opportunity in city government, it is characteristic of San Francisco’s leadership on social issues.

Lead-ing the Way: Public Health, Clay Pots, and Potential Lead Poisoning

May 06, 2010

By Minh Nguyen, H2010

In 2009, the Environmental Health Division of the City of Houston’s Health and Human Services Department (HDHHS) began the Flea Market Initiative (FMI) to investigate venues that it does not typically address – flea markets.The initiative itself was successful in curbing existent public health violations and even brought to bear another public health concern: pottery containing high lead levels. This initiative is a great example of how multi-disciplinary teams and committed public health agencies can work together to improve a community’s health.  Recently, the actions of the Department culminated in a press release manifested from coordination at the local and federal agencies warning the public of the potential health concerns of the pottery brand.  This is truly local government at its best. 

Flea markets have not beenroutinely inspected because flea market vendors in Houston are not required to have permits,although the number of public health violations did not go unnoticed. HDHHScreated the FMI to curb these violations. The FMI acted to document violations,educate vendors, and re-inspect eight different flea markets to proactivelyprotect the attendees of these markets. Based on its initial findings, the multi-disciplinary team achieved a 52% overall reduction in food, animal, lead, and smoking violations. Additionally, the FMI allowed the health inspectors the opportunity to identify Mi Patria’s clay pottery as a potential health hazard, especially since people may use them to cook, store, and serve foods and beverages (Note: High levels of lead in blood, particularly for children, can lead to learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and mental retardation, to name a few).

From the lead-positive findings ofthe few pieces from the flea market, the escalation of actions from the Environmental Health Division was superb. They purchased additional Mi Patria pottery pieces from localstores where they performed lab tests.  They worked with a representative of the brand to test 23 other pieces (11 containedor exceeded lead-level limits) then proceeded to work in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many conference calls, exchanged emails, and tests later, the coordinated efforts resulted in a press release disclosing the unsettling concerns. HDHHS had already raised enough concern fora few stores to voluntarily un-shelve the product line. The press release (and, later, news coverage) increased the profile of the Department’s findings.

Although more work is needed, HDHHS showed incredible discernment in their actions. This is an example of how local government can act as the eyes and ears of Federal regulations. As those closest to the citizens and businesses, local government is the first line of defense. It has the authority and duty to challenge businesses to act above reproach to serve their consumers. This is why city government matters.

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